From Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network:
Now the furore from this week’s headline-dominating fostering story has begun to die down, it seems a good time for a moment’s considered reflection on some of the very important issues the story raised.
One of the main controversies arising from this week’s story is about how it is decided which foster family a child will live with. Finding a good fostering placement for a child is complex and difficult, but an overarching principle is that the child must be at the very centre of the decision as to which fostering household can best meet their needs. This means looking at a particular child’s needs and finding the right match for them - these needs include health, education, proximity to family and school, hobbies and interests, cultural background, religion, language and so on.
There is no set hierarchy of needs that must be met – instead there is a hierarchy for each individual child which should be decided on a case by case basis by social workers who know the child. For example, a child with a particular disability may benefit from a foster carer who has specialist knowledge in that disability even if that foster carer is from a different religion.
Fostering services and foster carers must pay full attention to the child’s faith, culture, language and so on in order to be compliant with the Children’s Act 1989. But, with the right training and support, this can happen in a fostering household where the faith or culture of the foster carers is different to the child they are caring for. Indeed, this is happening in thousands of fostering households every day.
Assessment, training, support and ongoing review
This week’s story also raises questions of how foster carers are assessed, trained and reviewed.
The recruitment process of foster carers is lengthy and, among a whole range of other things, includes how the prospective foster carers would support a child’s identity including their culture, religion, language. Potential foster carers who have a strong religious belief will have to demonstrate how they would help a child explore their own cultural or religious beliefs, and how they would adapt their personal practice to take into account any child living with them.
Pre-approval training will also cover issues of identity and the vital role that foster carers play, where appropriate, in helping a fostered young person explore their culture, heritage and religion.
There are many thousands of carers across the UK, with good support from their fostering service, who have consistently gone the extra mile to support young people to stay connected with the faith and culture they were born into – even if they knew very little about that faith or culture before that young person came to live with them.
As well as social workers making the decision about which foster carers to place a child with based on that child’s individual needs, each fostering placement will be preceded by a placement planning meeting (where possible, although sometimes, by necessity this meeting takes place very shortly after the placement has begun). At this meeting the needs of the child will be discussed with the foster carers and a plan will be put into place as to how best meet those needs. This plan will then be frequently reviewed through visits from the child’s social worker and the foster carers’ supervising social worker, and regular reviews by an independent reviewing officer. There is often, as in the case that has been in the news this week, also a court appointed guardian who represents the needs of the fostered child in court and who will visit the child to gather their views
Of course, having a wider pool of foster carers, with a wide range of skills, experiences, backgrounds, religions and languages, allows children to be placed with the foster carers who can best meet their particular needs.
The thing that all foster carers have in common is a desire to offer support, stability and love to a child or young person who, for one reason or another, cannot live with their own family. All foster carers also have the skills and experience to offer to be able to provide that support, stability and love. We need foster carers from right across the UK, from all communities, with a range of backgrounds, experiences, expertise and interests. That will ensure that when a child’s needs are assessed and a hierarchy of needs is decided, there is best possible chance of finding the right foster family at the first time of asking.
There are currently roughly 55,000 fostering households across the UK, but over 7,000 more are needed this year alone. Could you be one of them? Choosing to foster is a big decision that will change your life and, most importantly, the lives of the children you care for. As long as you have a spare room, are over 21 and have the skills and experience to meet the needs of children who may have experienced a traumatic start to life, then there’s very little stopping you becoming a foster carer.
Don’t be misled by this week’s story. Every day there are thousands of children living with foster carers who are doing something quite incredible – wouldn’t it be great to see that on the front pages, perhaps with your name among them.